Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Who Gets the Babies?

A controversy has blown up, as it does, so let us charge right into it. The controversy is not about "gay adoption" or even about the right of Catholic agencies to operate without being forced to give up children to "gay couples." It is about unmarried people adopting children.

The question of childlessness is an aspect of Single life that still touches me pesonally. Indeed, it is more present than ever, for chaste Single women do not expect to find themselves pregnant one morning, and chaste Married women do. Once a month our hopes are dashed yet again and, to quote my inner child, it sucks.

Interestingly, my experience as a childless married woman has softened my attitude towards the possibilities of single people adopting children. And yet, when I was Single, had my unmarried sister died in childbed, I would have offered to adopt her son in a heartbeat. (Of course, I would have stopped short of legally wresting him from his natural father, something I might very much have wanted to do. I had read Thomas Aquinas on the subject by the advent of my nephew, you see.)

But as you see I am talking about a concrete, real-life child, and what would have been a concrete, real-life situation, not about abstracts and generalities. In the abstract, I can argue like any good Catholic that the few white babies offered up for adoption ought to go to those white married couples who seem best suited to take care of them. (Race is, of course, a whole other issue in adoption politics.) In the particular, I could not argue that my nephew ought to have gone to a white married couple and not to Single me. In fact, I do know of a Single woman who adopted her sister's lovechild, and far from being a monster of selfishness, she is widely accounted a saint.

Many women long in the abstract to be mothers and, single or married, consumerist society tempts us with ideas some find reasonable but Catholics find disgusting. When I was still Single, an old friend timidly suggested that I go to a pub, seduce a patsy, and get myself knocked up. That's not how she put it, but that's what she meant.

Now that I am married, nobody has suggested I put myself and my husband through the sci-fi nightmare that is IVF, but I live a sheltered life these days. I did once know a woman who did that, and in the end the IVF people were trying to get her to sign over the "leftover" embryos for "research"--which makes the Monty Python joke about selling excess children for scientific experiments somehow less funny. My, things have changed since 1983.

What often stops us from doing something very wicked in the name of motherhood, I think, is the mantra that every child deserves a mother and a father. And indeed, I do believe that every child deserves a mother and a father. What I don't believe is that every child has a reasonable hope of having a mother and a father. There are, worldwide, an enormous number of children whose parents are dying or dead.

I could not, for the life of me, think of a Single woman of means willing to mother an orphaned child--not a baby, although I have something to say about that too--as selfish. There is a waiting list for tiny white babies; there is no (although I could be mistaken) a waiting list for children of any colour. Here in Scotland, foster parents are paid, actually paid, to take care of children of simply ghastly backgrounds, and sometimes those foster parents actually adopt them. I can think of few things more meritorious than that. I wonder if I would have courage. At any rate, I believe that there are Single women of means who do have the courage and would make splendid mothers for children who would otherwise have no loving parent capable of parenting at all.

Not everybody has that courage, and instead turn to China and other countries where many babies--especially girl babies--are treated abominably if they are allowed to be born at all. And in this case, once again I say that it is better for a child to be given a mother, no matter how foreign or Single, than to languish in state care or be drowned in a ditch.

In short, it is not a question of "no woman has the right to a child." It is a question of "Does a living, motherless child have the right to a mother?" I say, yes, even if that mother has no husband, if there are no potential mothers-with-husbands offering for that particular, concrete child. I cannot see forcing a concrete, living, motherless child to remain motherless just because there is no father on offer, too.

There is no one-size solution to the question of adoption. Yes, evil must not be done so that good may come of it, but I cannot believe it is necessarily an evil for a Single woman--a Single woman of good character and means--to adopt a child.

Update: Related and very, very sad.


Alisha said...

Thanks, Seraphic...I've always been of two minds on the issue; this helps. That story of the surrogate mother is indeed sad. Yet another reason why IVF etc etc is morally unsound.

Alisha said...

Also, could someone point me to some reliable stats on adoption? As far as I know there is no baby shortage, but a shortage of babies people would deem "desirable"...i.e. people don't want to adopt babies who are too sick, too old, a different race, etc etc. That makes me very sad...I think a person who is going to adopt should seek to be as generous as they can in their circumstances, and according to their capacity, not be looking for the "ideal baby" - that's shopping, instead of looking to receive a gift.

Seraphic said...

Well, as for race, Alisha, I am sorry to say this, but many agencies do not want to match babies of colour with white adoptive parents. They prefer that babies go to adoptive parents of their own race. I am not sure I go along with the philosophy behind this although I can understand why there is residual anger amongst native peoples about native babies being adopted out to white folk.

aussie girl etc said...

Often these foster children are not available for adoption because the attitude of child services is that everything should be done to get kids back to their natural parents.
And do you think a single man should be able to adopt a child?

Children have a right to a mother and father and if we are in a position to give that, then we should.

Angie said...

As someone who has worked with social services and the foster care system in the United States, I have to say that when it comes to a child, especially an older one, being adopted by any responsible, compassionate adult willing to take them is far better than staying in foster care for extended amounts of time waiting for their parents to get their act together. Unfortunately, in the state I worked in, the court system was far too conservative in terminating parental rights, leaving children to flounder in the system for years, and it was truly heartbreaking to watch. The main point I want to make however, is that in my experience a child has the chance to thrive anytime there is a loving caretaker who is truly invested in his or her wellbeing, be that an extended family member, an adoptive couple, or single person. Children can't wait for an ideal family structure, they need a home that is stable and full of love, and they need it now, not when the perfect heterosexual couple of the appropriate race comes along. I fail to see how a responsible woman who is capable of raising an adopted child should ever be considered "evil" for doing so?

Shiraz said...

I agree with what Angie and Alisha said. There are a lot of kids out there in the foster system who would really be so much better off in a stable, loving home environment (however that is constituted) than in the uncertainty of foster care. Also, it is indeed true that the shortage adoptable children is more a shortage of 'desirable' ones -- ie very young babies without serious medical problems. Which I imagine is why you get (some) prospective parents looking overseas for babies to adopt, rather than looking to take older children closer to home who may come with social and medical problems. I can understand why adoptive parents might not want to deal with these sorts of issues, but at the same time, this makes me deeply uneasy (in that we rich westerners seem to think we can have whatever we want, and whatever kind of baby we want -- almost to order).

If a single woman is willing to take in and love a child who needs a loving home, why on earth would we as a society begrudge that? Do we honestly think that child is better off in temporary care? Or back with their (say) abusive, drug-addicted biological parents? So I think these things should be decided on a case-by-case basis, prospective parent by prospective parent, and child by child.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post. I was contemplating writing you concerning this issue, but I see you've already written about it!